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Empowerment through Education

By Jack Huang, China – December 2011

Along with China’s rise as a major economic world power has come something highly unexpected –an increase in zhiyauanzhe, or volunteerism. While zhiyuanzhe dates back to Chairman Mao, the former head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) who hoped to “teach good to people” through government controlled endeavors, volunteerism in China today is largely driven by university students – students who have learned that as the rich have gotten richer, the poor have been left behind. Taking the country’s future in their hands, a rising number of young people are working to educate China’s poorest rural population.

Twenty year old Ken Chan is one such student who understands that through education comes opportunities. Chan, himself, might not have gone to university were it not for his junior high school teacher who refused to give up hope in him when nearly everyone else had.

Traveling throughout China in the late 1990s Chan saw many young people from Hong Kong volunteering as teachers in remote rural areas of China where few, if any, educational resources existed. More teachers were desperately needed in these makeshift schools which lacked libraries, art materials, and internet.   .

Chan dedicated himself to making a difference. He founded Lighthouse, a non profit organization that connected remote rural areas of China with university students activating a peer-to-peer educational program providing learning opportunities for all concerned. Along with his friend Sijie Yin, a graduate from Lingnan College, Chan trained teacher volunteers and placed them in schools throughout Guangzhou province.

But despite the media attention Lighthouse received for this charitable work, the founders quit. Lighthouse seemed doomed to extinction leaving only a few university student volunteers shouldering the responsibilities of keeping the organization going.

Twenty year old Ning Gan was one of those students who didn’t want Lighthouse to fail. Her passion to make a difference in positively affecting the lives of more than 30 million people living in and around the city of Guangzhou caused her to think of ways to further Lighthouse’s achievements.

With only a few dollars left in the till, Ning, without any experience in running an NGO, said she experienced some pretty challenging days. She reached out to friends who had graduated from university asking them to donate a portion of their salaries to help those served by Lighthouse.

Passion with an infusion of funding gave Lighthouse a new beginning. Today, more than 6000 students in rural China have benefited from the Lighthouse program and more than 2000 student volunteers who teach children from primary school to high school have acquired over 300,000 accumulated teaching hours.,

Ning now has a board of directors who help her develop a network of experienced teachers in top urban schools who donate their time to teach.  Through the peer-to-peer education the Lighthouse continues to open the eyes of volunteer teachers to the needs of those who are amongst China’s poorest citizens while they provide an educational need.

Committed to extending its reach, Lighthouse is developing strategies to augment their program to reach other rural areas outside Guangzhou province. Ning has also created outreach campaigns that have attracted new partners such as CITI bank, FedEx, Allianz, etc.

Celebrating their 10th anniversary Ning and her friends are moving forward with other plans that will further close gap in the educational system China. But despite its success, the organization still needs more resources. Should you wish to support the organization, you can contact Ning at goldbell303030@126.com. The official website of Lighthouse is: http://www.lighthouse.org.cn (Chinese version).

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